Sunday, September 11, 2011
In 2001 I was doing a morning radio show in Kentucky. In 2011 I still am, though I work in a different city. I was on the radio when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Like everyone else, at first I thought it was simply a bizarre accident. And, like everyone else, the second plane changed things. Shortly after that, the radio station went to total news coverage and I had a lunch to cancel.
A few day’s earlier, the manager of another radio station (or, rather, his representative) set up the lunch to discuss my interest in simulcasting my radio show on his station.
If you were around then, you remember the confusion, the fear, that we all experienced. Would there be another attack? Were more enemy-controlled jets in the air? Were major cities going to be torched by nukes? Were enemy armies now waiting to invade our country? I heard all of those suggestions, and some more bizarre, in the hours following the morning attacks.
Talking about a silly morning radio show didn’t seem very important that day. I called the other station, and to my surprise, the man who’d approached me still wanted to have lunch. “There’s nothing else we can do,” I was told.
So I went to lunch and had one of the most surreal experiences of my life.
The restaurant was normally a busy place, where one had to wait a few minutes for a table, even at lunch.
There was no wait. There were no other diners, save for the other radio guy, his employee (a friend of mine who had served as the intermediary) and me.
We took a table by the window, which gave us a view of the busiest street in town, a street that should have been bumper-to-bumper at lunchtime on a weekday.
During the hour or so I was there, I saw maybe 10 cars. Every one traveled well below the speed limit, like members of a funeral procession that was spread out across a continent.
The change in the world was disorienting. I had trouble concentrating on what the other radio guy was saying. As soon as I could, I left for home.
My strongest memory of that afternoon and evening was the sadness my wife and I felt. We flipped through the television news channels, trying to find answers, but at that point, most of what was being discussed was pure speculation.
The most chilling thing was the number of channels that went off the air. As we went from channel to channel, many of the non-news cable channels were not broadcasting any programming. In most cases, a title card and the picture of the flag was the only thing on the screen.
Ten years later, some things–like airport security–seemed to have changed in a fairly permanent way, while others–politics, for example–seem to be back to “bidness as usual”, as we say back home.
Nothing ever came of that lunch, except for the memory of that strange day. I was listening to meaningless babble while most everyone else was gathered around a TV in the office, or huddled at home with loved ones, crying or angry or scared. Or, most likely, all three.